Undaunted by a defeat before the Dedham Zoning Board of Appeals, the town’s Parks and Recreation Commission will still try to erect a 92-foot wind turbine at a local park, to the chagrin of neighbors who oppose the idea.
Donald Reisner, chairman of the parks commission, said the turbine is necessary to cut electrical costs so the commission doesn’t have to raise user fees at Fairbanks Park, which is used by Little League teams. Running the field’s lights and concession stand using the turbine, he said, could save the town about $1,900 a year.
Reisner hopes to resubmit the plan to the zoning board early next year – a move that first requires permission from the Planning Board. Reisner said he will go before that board next month.
“We don’t want to charge kids to play,” Reisner said. “People are paying enough right now.”
But critics question the financial benefits of the turbine, while also faulting the parks commission for not hiring a professional consultant to conduct studies on wind speed, potential noise levels, and identifying other possible sites for a turbine in town. Eighty-two residents of that neighborhood have signed a petition against the proposal.
“In spite of significant neighborhood opposition and negative vote by the ZBA, they are still pursuing something that is not economically viable,” said Anne Frasca, a certified public accountant whose property abuts the park and who organized the opposition. “The savings generated are minimal – $1,900 a year. . . . That’s assuming estimates on wind in the area are accurate, but they never did a full analysis on the wind.”
The parks commission has said that a professional study doesn’t make sense financially for a proposal that will cost the town so little. While Town Meeting approved $60,000 to purchase the turbine, a state grant would reimburse the town $45,000. The turbine has the support of town administrator Bill Keegan, while the selectmen and Finance Committee approved the purchase as part of the town’s budget for this year.
The turbine proposal has spun considerable controversy, including accusations of potential conflict of interest. Reisner believes two members of the zoning board – chairman Jack Kearney and member Robert Smith – should have abstained from voting in October because they lived near the park and because they noted before casting their negative votes, according to minutes of the meeting, that they had been swayed by their neighbors.
The turbine, which exceeds the town’s maximum height restriction by 7 feet, required a special permit approved by at least four of five zoning board members. Only Kearney and Smith voted against the permit.
Reisner would not comment on whether he has filed a complaint with the State Ethics Committee, while a spokeswoman for that committee would not confirm receiving a complaint.
The state’s conflict of interest law states that board members need to recuse themselves from a vote, or disclose a conflict of interest, when they have a financial stake in a proposed project. In the case of the turbine, the law appears to indicate that in order to have a conflict, the two members would have to have property that abuts the park, is across the street from an abutter, or is within 300 feet of an abutter. Neither member’s property abuts the park or is on the same street as the park.
Kearney said he didn’t think there was a need for anyone to recuse himself from the vote. Smith could not be reached for comment.
“They seem to think it’s a conflict to interest for me to vote,” Kearney said. “They are foolish. It is not.”
The proposal failed, Kearney said, because the parks commission didn’t provide the board with adequate information on wind speed and noise. Meanwhile, he said, opponents put together a scholarly rebuttal, noting that turbines tend to do better on hills or along the seashore – criteria Fairbanks Park didn’t appear to meet.
“They tried to put it together quickly,” Kearney said. “I can’t speak for Mr. Smith. Neither one of us are against wind speed. It just wasn’t done in a comprehensive manner. . . . Eighty-two people in the neighborhood – that is a substantial amount of people not in favor of putting it there.”
Kearney said state law states that the zoning board can reconsider the proposal only after two years have passed since the vote, unless there is a material change in the proposal. The commission could also lower the proposed height to under 85 feet, so it no would longer need a special permit to exceed the town’s height limit.
Reisner said he is checking with the Planning Board to see if there is a way around the two-year provision because, he said, a shorter turbine could cost more as it would require a special order, and may decrease electricity savings.
Mostly, though, he expressed concerns that difficulties in erecting a 92-foot turbine at Fairbanks Park could cast doubts on placing turbines at other fields that would be even closer to residences and don’t have 70-foot high buffers of trees like Fairbanks has, he said.
“If we can’t put it here, where else can we put one if someone else says ‘we don’t want it near us’?” Reisner said. “This decision could affect other projects.”
The parks department is considering a turbine for Memorial Park.
By James Vaznis
16 December 2007